It’s hard for me to tell if people have learned much from pieces I’ve written since I went online in 1998. I have learned things. Sometimes I stumbled into phrases and metaphors that give me a much better handle on expressing what I know, and having a better handle helps not only express what I already appreciated, but also helps take ideas farther than I could before.
When I first started writing about my spiritual experiences, I doubt that I had a succinct definition for “God”. Like many liberals I paid more attention to “God is love” than God as Creator, but I’m sure neither of those simplicities captured the essence of God for me. Then at some point there came this idea that did do that. I like a definition that God is the answer that I get when I pray, “God help me!”
For me that definition is much more concrete than most definitions of God, even God as creator. The universe is massive. There are many different aspects to creation, from the overall structure of the universe to all the little details. What can I know about God from that, especially when science tells me that if God is the Creator, He is outside all the things explained perfectly well by science? But that God helps me when I ask is almost tangible. It isn’t to those who don’t perceive an answer to their prayers. It depends what prayers someone prays. One can pray for the protection of a family member. If nothing happens, was that God or the natural course of things? It’s similar for praying for someone’s healing in most cases. It can be hard to tell that God did anything.
But the definition I like isn’t about just any prayer. It’s a helpless prayer. It’s a nonspecific prayer. It’s a prayer where I don’t even know what to ask for, regardless of the exact words that come to me to express that. And God answers such a prayer. How many people know that? I don’t know. How many people ever pray such a prayer? How many people wait for God to do something in response? How many people are ready to say that it was God who responded, not circumstances that would have happened anyway?
I’m sure some people shy away from this approach because they see no proof that anything that follows a prayer is from God. Of course there’s no proof. If there were proof, everyone would find the real God and not the contradictory, distant, oversimplified being that traditions force on people. I have never found proof of God in theological and philosophical claims of ways to prove God. I found God as a presence that built up as my prayer life evolved, not in the response to one prayer, but in a pattern, a pattern in which I asked for direction, strength and comfort from God, and got direction, strength and comfort.
I admit that when I started hearing from God in words it was easier to look back and say, “Yes, this is the same God I’ve always known, the Helper, the God who is love, though not the indiscriminating love some of my fellow liberals believe in.” God would guide me through looking at that. Yet to define God as a voice in me that says, “I am God” is not right. I wouldn’t trust such a voice if He hadn’t already proven Himself as the answer to my prayer.
If I pray prayers like, “God help me!” repeatedly and only hear from the same demon over and over again, then what hope is there? What sort of universe would make that a reality, even just for me? A universe where I’ve already lost, that’s what sort. It’s not worth worrying about beyond that.
Is that what people worry about in defining God in terms of personal experience, that it might be wrong? What if it’s right? How extraordinarily liberating would that be? And people don’t worry about defining God in abstract terms that don’t necessarily connect to reality at all, but create a straightjacket for us? How puzzling.
As with all of religion, I think the biggest problem is that people don’t question tradition enough. Traditional Christians accept their traditional view of God. Traditional Muslims accept the Muslim view. Those who see God as existing in everything and everyone draw from Eastern religion and recent New Age traditions to feel secure in their beliefs. What a house of cards, all of them.
God is whoever and whatever God is, another phrase I stumbled on to express a problem with so many religions. Anyone who says he or she knows exactly who God is lies, whether that belief is by revelation, by reasoning or by intuition. So says God to me. No one can prove otherwise. Anyone can believe otherwise, for all sorts of reasons. So how are those beliefs working for you?
I suspect most people would say their beliefs are working just fine for them, or they would change their beliefs. Yet an outsider can see what someone’s beliefs cost them, how what someone thinks is a meaningful ritual or valuable idea is just a waste of time. God can see how many lives are wasted in false faith. Someday what is true will emerge from the discontent with what is false. It’s not easy. It’s much easier for human beings to reject one thing and embrace its opposite, as atheists do. It’s easier to go from one false belief to a different false belief than to find the one belief that’s true. Many of my fellow liberals hate that idea, preferring that there is no truth, so everyone can be equal. That’s not my experience.
God is the answer to, “God help me!” I believe that’s true, but I know that more fundamental is that God is whoever and whatever God is, not what someone says He is.
People don’t jump on that bandwagon. Is that because I haven’t explained it well enough? Are people not ready? Is that because they are so comfortable in their currents beliefs or lack thereof? Is that because people are too comfortable in their lives to ask for God’s help, the real God, not the fantasy that fixes anything by going poof?
To any such questions, God tells me the answer doesn’t matter. God is available to whoever asks. He knows His threshold for helping someone. It’s not the same for everyone. Different people have different needs. Those who think their traditions substitute for the real God may be beyond doing anything with them in this life. It’s not as though God communicates with us so easily that He can do anything about that anyway. I don’t know what God’s limits are. I don’t think He knows either. God has no mirror. But it’s quite clear He could do more for us. We would have to let Him. There are many reasons why we don’t. But anyone who wants to see what happens when he or she sincerely prays, “God help me!” can get a handle on the real God. They don’t need to know anything I think about that. So I can let go. Biological, cultural, and spiritual evolution will change what I can’t change, and I can just pay attention to the answer I received.